Rare South China cubs head for South Africa - September 1st 2003, 16:00

Today is certainly the most memorable day for two rare cuddly tiger cubs from China. Tigers may not have originated in Africa, but today these two cubs of the world's most ancient subspecies of tiger - the Chinese Tiger (also named the South China Tiger), commenced their historical journey from Beijing, China to South Africa for the first ever attempt at Rewilding Training (learning to hunt).

The cubs were born in captivity in the Shanghai Zoo and currently do not posses the ability to survive in the wild. The foundation Save China's Tiger's team and high level Chinese officials and trainees are accompanying the cubs during the journey. The cubs will be handed over to the care of Save China's Tiger's rewilding team in the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria upon arrival.

The female cub, born January 21st 2003, is named "Cathay" (the original English name given to the region now called China) after Cathay Pacific Airways who will be sponsoring the transportation of the animals and project personnel for the next five years; and the male, born February 17th, has been named "Hope" by the supportive readers of the Sunday People newspaper in the UK.

Tigers originated in China and the Chinese Tiger is believed to be the ancestor to all other subspecies of tiger. This translocation represents the first time that Chinese Tigers have left the People's Republic of China.

The Rewilding project marks the beginning of the bigger project aimed at establishing a Chinese Tiger Conservation Model to save the endangered South China tiger through the creation of a Chinese Tiger Pilot Reserve in China. Indigenous Chinese wildlife will be combined with unique Chinese cultural heritage to create opportunities in eco-tourism for local economic development. South African reserve management expertise will be utilized. The Chinese Tiger Conservation Model is the brainchild of Ms Li Quan, founder of Save China's Tigers, a foundation that she established in 2000 in the United Kingdom and in the US to help China save the Chinese Tigers.

This project also marks the first time that a large cat, such as the tiger, is given a chance of survival through a large-scale international reintroduction effort. "The South China Tiger is so critically endangered that we have to take this drastic measure to save them from likely extinction", says Li Quan, who engineered this project.

The cubs will initially be housed for two weeks in the facilities of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria to undergo the necessary quarantine and veterinary checks, after which they will be taken to another Zoo property of 500 hectares situated in Makopani, north of Pretoria, for the first stage of Rewilding training.

"The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa recognizes that the future survival of the world's most threatened animal species will depend on the successful interaction between ex-situ and in-situ breeding and reintroduction programmes", said Mr Willie Labuschagne, Director of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa.

In an Agreement, signed in Beijing on 26 November last year, between Save China's Tigers and the Wildlife Research Centre of the State Forestry Administration of China and the Chinese Tigers South Africa Trust, the project to reintroduce the Chinese Tiger (panthera tigris amoyensis) into the wild was launched.

For over a decade, China's State Forestry Administration has been leading the effort to save this critically endangered tiger species, believed to number less than 30 animals in the wild and only sixty surviving in Chinese Zoo's, through the establishment of several nature reserves. Save China's Tigers is the first external foundation in the world dedicated to help China's conservation of the Chinese tigers and other big cats.

"The tiger represents the most important symbol in Chinese culture. If the tiger becomes extinct, the cultural values that embrace this icon will also be lost for future generations. We have summarized the Chinese campaign as being 'Three Tigers', the Spiritual Tiger, Cultural Tiger and Ecological Tiger", Quan said.

Ms Quan further stated that by recruiting South African expertise, it opens an extraordinary channel of mutual exchange and skills transfer in wildlife management between the two countries. "South Africa is renowned for its skills in conservation which was the reason for our approach to, and partnership with, local conservation expertise in order to assist us with this project", she remarked. To maximize the chances of success, this Rewilding programme will be conducted in parallel with the on-going Meihuashan Chinese Tiger Rewilding Project in Fujian, China.

The Chinese tigers will be returned to a Chinese Tiger Pilot Reserve to be established in the next few years in China. While the tigers are being rewilded in South Africa, Chinese and South African scientists will embark on surveying land, restoring habitat, prey animals and other predators in the Pilot Reserve in China.

The first rewilded Chinese tigers (that will successfully regain hunting skills and are able to survive independently in the wild) are expected to be reintroduced into the wild in China in 2008, when Beijing hosts the Olympic games. The Save China's Tigers Organisation would also like to encourage to the public to vote for the Chinese tiger as the mascot of the 2008 Olympic games.

Save China's Tigers expresses its gratitude to Cathay Pacific for their generous sponsorship in transporting the cubs and members of the Chinese Tiger project team from both China and South Africa, and committing to its future involvement to contribute. Commenting on the project, Don Hunter, Cathay Pacific's Country Manager for Southern Africa said, "We are proud to be associated and to contribute to this historical effort of reinstating the Chinese tigers back into the wild in China. It is a logical extension of our own annual International Wilderness Experience programme that educates young people on the importance of conservation".

Save China's Tigers also wishes to use this occasion to thank all its supporters who have been generously helping the organization with their time, effort and resources in the past three years, making the Chinese Tiger's future brighter.

Issued by:
Li Quan
Save China's Tigers
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 20 7702 9382
Fax: +44 20 7481 4396
Cell: +44 7767 367 016
Email: kate.reynolds@mailbox.co.uk

Sarita Cronjé
Deputy director
National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
Pretoria, South Africa
Tel:+27 (0)12 - 328-3265 / 328-6020
Fax:+27 (0)12 - 323-4540
Cell:+27 (0) 83-325-6716

Photos and videos © Save China's Tigers UK Charity No.1082216